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Writing Books/Method for including background info


Hello.  Currently, I am working on my first novel.  It is fantasy, and my plans consist of starting the first chapter 6 years after a major massacre.  I wonder whether a prologue is necessary or not.  There are many relationships between the main characters prior to the incidents after the bloodshed including friendship between slightly feudal countries, the transfer of a servant, and a few other things, that will also continue and advance in the future.  I am hesitant about including all the information within the story itself whether it is gradually through dialogue and/or a few minor flashbacks/dreams.  However, I also fear the use of unnecessary information or too much information at once in a prologue.  I don't want my readers to lose interest due to confusion, but I also don't want to give them too much background/info to the point of boring or overwhelming them.  Do you have any suggestions that might help me decide on the best approach?  Thank you very much for your time.

Hi, Melissa!

This is a tricky question but it's good you're asking it, because too many books start out slow for the sole reason of telling the backstory. In the trade, it's called an "info dump" that doesn't move the plot along. You're right that you don't want readers to be confused, but you have to treat it carefully. What you might do is find some way to focus on an anniversary of a key event---whether the battle six years ago, or the meeting of the people, or some such. Make it serious or funny or romantic. Doesn't matter. But remember that a book is the "crisis of the moment." Spread out the moment too long, and you've lost the reader. So you need something to tie it together. Maybe the servant is celebrating the anniversary of getting out of the bad castle and into a position where he's treated better (or vice-versa.) Maybe two warriors promised to meet back in a certain pub every year to raise a toast to a fallen comrade. Then the prologue, where you detail the death or the transfer, makes sense and ties it to the opening.

But if you CAN work with the book without that prologue, you'll be better for it. Only a very few authors have managed to pull off prologues so that readers look forward to them. You might look up Clive Cussler's "Dirk Pitt" books. He does an EXCELLENT job with prologues that open a book well.

Hope that helps a little, and feel free to ask any other questions if my answer confused you. :)


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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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